Teaching black boys a lesson is in the news again. More
precisely, teaching black boys a lesson only to discover that they
fail to pass enough GCSEs has moved up the political agenda once
more. Three out of four African-Caribbean boys fail to reach the
threshold of five good GCSE passes. Yet half of the girls make the
Trevor Phillips, chair of the Commission for Racial Equality,
concludes that this male lack of achievement can’t, therefore, be
due to poverty or social class. He also, bizarrely, argues that
it’s not due to racism either, since Asian and Indian boys do three
times better in their examinations – as if racism is not as diverse
in its variations as the people who espouse bigoted views.
Professor Marian FitzGerald, of the University of Kent, counters by
accusing Phillips of “statistical racism”. She argues that lack of
academic success isn’t just a problem for African-Caribbean boys;
it also affects white young males. One connecting link is
What both protagonists have left out of the argument are the twin
issues of culture and masculinity, and the detrimental effect that
racism (denied by Phillips) has on the self-worth of young black
males. Traditionally, doing well at school is not what poor white
or black boys do. Real men use their hands, not their brains.
In contrast, success through education is validated in many Asian
cultures and in Chinese culture. Conscious and unconscious racism
is still prevalent in schools, manifested very differently towards
African-Caribbean boys. They are too often seen as “trouble” before
they open their mouths – and judged as slow learners on the basis
of little evidence.
Phillips cites the Windsor Fellowship, which runs a programme
exclusively for ethnic minority children. They are mentored and
given extra lessons. In London, last year, 100 per cent passed five
good GCSEs. But from this, he draws the wrong conclusion.
The answer is not segregating black boys. First, it is examining
the attitudes of those who teach. In the Windsor Fellowship,
achievement is the expectation, and from that shift in emphasis,
miracles flow. Second, the boys are transplanted to a different
dominant culture in which their ability to reach goals is what
matters, so they have less need to turn marginalisation into a
Phillips rightly wants to prevent “a fourth generation of failure”.
But the best way to begin is an accurate analysis of the